Metro Manila under strict lockdown to contain Delta variant

Manila and nearby cities would go back to the strictest lockdown level from Aug. 6 to 20 amid a fresh surge in coronavirus infections that may have been spurred by a more contagious Delta variant. 

The presidential palace announced the decision as the Department of Health (DoH) reported 8,562 COVID-19 infections on Friday, the highest in more than two months. This brought total cases to 1.58 million, 61,920 or 3.9% of which were still active. 

The Philippine economy could lose more than P200 billion during the two-week enhanced community quarantine, the National Economic and Development Authority said in a statement. 

It would also increase the number of poor people by as many as 177,000 and add 444,000 jobless Filipinos, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said in a Viber group message. 

The government should use the next three weeks to fast-track vaccinations in high-risk areas, Mr. Chua said. “This way, the enhanced community quarantine will be an investment to pave the way for a recovery once we control the Delta spread.”  

The government also extended the travel ban on India, where the variant was first detected, and its neighbors until mid-August, presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing on Friday. 

Covered by the ban aside from India are Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. 

More restrictions were imposed in the capital region starting July 31, including a ban on indoor and al fresco dining at restaurants. 

Physical religious gatherings were also banned, while necrological services, wakes and funerals for those who died of causes other than COVID-19 would be allowed but limited to immediate family members, the palace said. 

Public transportation will continue but only only authorized persons will be allowed to travel into and out of the National Capital Region, Cavite, Bulacan, Laguna and Rizal. 

Outdoor tourist attractions, beauty salons, parlors, barber shops and nail spas may continue to operate at 30% capacity. Indoor sports and tourist attractions won’t be allowed. 

The OCTA Research Group from the University of the Philippines earlier urged the government to impose a “circuit breaker” lockdown to contain a fresh surge in coronavirus infections that may be due to the Delta variant. 

It said about 1,000 cases were being reported daily in Metro Manila. Health authorities have debunked the claim, saying there was no evidence of a surge. 

The death toll rose to 27,722 on Friday after 145 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 2,854 to 1.49 million, the Health department said in a bulletin. 

There were 61,920 active cases, 94% of which were mild, 1.2% did now show symptoms, 2.1% were severe, 1.49% were moderate and 1.2% were critical.   

DoH has reported 216 Delta variant cases, but there could be more undetected cases because of the slow pace of the country’s genome sequencing. 

Only 7% of of 110 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The government seeks to fully immunize as many as 70 million people by year-end. 

Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda said lockdowns should only be imposed as a last resort. 

Enhanced community quarantines only work when done early enough,” he said in a statement. “It does not work in response to a wave, because its impact is lagged. We’ll see its benefits only a month later.” — with Russell Louis C. Ku